Rugby Union: Time to decide, which side are you on?

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The Independent Online
THE PROSPECT of the South African Joel Stransky playing for England in next year's rugby World Cup has already been ridiculed. But the England coach, Clive Woodward, didn't totally reject the idea. He said he'd have to be desperate to consider such a move - which is not exactly a point- blank refusal. Show me a rugby coach and I'll show you someone who can easily become desperate.

Suppose, for a moment, that Woodward did take advantage of the fact the stand-off Stransky would have been over here long enough to qualify for England; you would have the odd situation of a man who helped South Africa to win the 1995 World Cup now trying to help win the same trophy for England four years later.

Just imagine if England played South Africa in the final at the new Millennium Stadium next November and with 30 seconds to go the score is 20-20 and Stransky gets the ball and puts over a beautiful drop goal to win the Cup for England. Would that not give a slightly sour taste to England's celebration champagne? Wouldn't that put a slight frown on Woodward's face as he was chaired around the field? Wouldn't the Queen look a bit puzzled? Wouldn't Stransky feel odd?

Forget the last question. Stransky would feel marvellous. It would be sweet revenge over South Africa for not picking him recently. And, furthermore, isn't he a professional who now lives among the English and will now be a lifelong hero, and a considerably wealthier man, in his new country? But, whatever the thoughts of those concerned, I fancy the rest of the world would be looking at the game of rugby and thinking that we had all gone mad.

It is a crazy situation that, with the way the game is, the above scenario could happen. Before it gets a chance to, I believe that the International Rugby Board should step in now to introduce some firm rules about crossing rugby's international borders.

As a player, I am sure I couldn't have appeared for any other country except Wales. Perhaps, had my parents emi-grated to New Zealand when I was young, I could have put up with playing for the All Blacks but that is different. I don't blame anyone for playing for an adopted country. But once I'd worn the red shirt of Wales in action I couldn't play for any other country apart, of course, for the Lions.

This is just my personal view and I mean no criticism of those who have represented different countries. There are circumstances in modern rugby that I did not encounter so I haven't faced the temptation. International rugby, for whatever country, is a powerful magnet.

I remember being totally confused back in the 1980s when I first began my international career. I was a big admirer, and still am for that matter, of the great flanker Michael Jones - who I believe has Welsh blood in him from way back.

I first played against Jones when Wales met Western Samoa on tour in 1986. The following year I played against him in the World Cup but by then he was playing for New Zealand. Now, I hear on the grapevine that he'll be appearing for Western Samoa again next year. I also understand that Va'aiga Tuigamala has already reverted to playing for the Samoans.

New Zealand have enjoyed the services of the South Sea Islanders for many years now without anyone complaining but it does give them a tremendous advantage. They take the brightest rugby prospects at a young age and give them schooling back in New Zealand.

Now that professionalism is in full swing, there's nothing to stop any rich country luring promising youngsters to emigrate to a brighter international rugby future and it is time we brought in a few controls.

Having said that, as a Welshman I am pleased that Shane Howarth is now a member of the Welsh squad. The former All Black has much to offer and will strengthen us considerably next year. How do I equate that with my views of the subject? Well, if everybody else is doing it, Wales have every right to take advantage. That doesn't mean to say I agree with the principle.

I'm quite happy with players who choose to play for another country. Rupert Moon was born in Walsall but you won't find a more patriotic Welshman. The same goes for Dewi Morris, who made the opposite journey.

But once you have decided which country you want to play for, you should stick with it. I don't agree with rugby birthrights being bought and sold.

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